Hampstead is a green, sprawling chunk of north London that encompasses a variety of postcodes, but for the purpose of this article we'll stick to the old Hampstead Village area of NW3.
With Hampstead High Street at its centre, this starry piece of zone two real estate is bordered by moneyed Belsize Park to the south, Finchley Road to the west, Golders Green at the north and vast swathes of heath to the east side. The sky-high property prices here mean that the residential population is not exactly a young and trendy one — somewhat reflected in the dining destinations of the area. But that's not to say there aren't some absolute gems for your post-heath refreshment. You just need to know where to look.
We can give thanks to Hampstead's well-established Jewish community for the abundance of great bagel bakeries in the area, and one of the best for breakfast is Roni's (44 Rosslyn Hill). Open from 7am daily, they do Israeli style breakfast dishes like shakshuka or a platter of eggs with tahini, tuna, olives and more. Bagels come with a variety of fillings — be sure to take some away with you.
The large French contingent means that there are queues out the door of the local Paul (43 Hampstead High Street) each morning. It's standing room only, but for a quick breakfast on the hop, you can certainly do worse than a fresh pain au chocolat.
Other mini-chains in the area include Cote (82-84 Hampstead High Street) who do a very pleasant Full French, and down towards Hampstead Heath overground station there is Le Pain Quotidien (1 South End Road) and Euphorium Bakery (45 South End Road). We like Euphorium's challah, which is a brioche-style Jewish bread, just asking for a layer of good cream cheese.
You can't visit Hampstead Village without a stop at La Crêperie (77a Hampstead High Street) for a restorative Parisian style crêpe. Sold out of a little trailer, both sweet and savoury varieties have been a hit for decades. They count Kate Moss and Harry Styles as fans.
If you're after a seat, try the Fish Café a few doors down at number 71 which does a decent plate of fish and chips, or even sometimes a platter of oysters — best enjoyed at one of the outside tables with a nice sancerre. Alternatively, there is Spielburger (37 Heath Street) right next to the Everyman Cinema, for your hit of well-sourced beef in the ubiquitous brioche bun. Further down the hill you’ll find newcomer Gourmet & Craft (46 Rosslyn Hill) an all-day set up who do an excellent line in steaming fluffy pittas — we can’t recommend the lamb shawarma enough.
For sunny days, head down the back streets to beautiful Burgh House (New End Square) and bask in the peaceful garden with a glass of fizz and a frittata – or even a Sunday roast. The afternoon tea selection is worth a look too.
Gastropubs, pubs and bars
NW3 isn’t short of pubs, and most of them are historic. Try The Holly Bush (22 Hollymount) and The Horseshoe (28 Heath Street) for good beers, ales and, latterly, food. The Horseshoe in particular is well served by the nearby Camden Town Brewery. Over towards the Heath, The Freemasons Arms (32 Downshire Hill) is a good example of a Young's pub and has a large and attractive beer garden. Nearby, The Wells (30 Well Walk) is always popular with customers spilling out into the street if the weather is nice, though it's hard to get a table for food at the weekend, such is its reputation.
For cosy days, there is The Roebuck (15 Pond Street) opposite the Royal Free Hospital (they also boast a small but perfectly formed beer garden and occasional BBQ to accompany sporting events) or The Flask (14 Flask Walk) down what is surely one of London's prettiest streets is always a winning choice. Their sausage rolls and pork pie bar snacks are a must-try.
L'Antica (66 Heath Street) is consistently voted in the top three for London's best pizza, so do try and bag yourself one of their handful of tables to tuck into one of their famed Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas. The Caravaggio (smoked mozzarella, friarelli, Neapolitan sausage and chilli) is tremendous, as is the cheese laden Annibale.
Opposite, step into Japanese hotspot Jin Kichi (73 Heath Street) where counter seating surrounds the traditional robata grill cooking up exceptional quality yakitori skewers and stunning sushi.
There are a few chains about, but one can hardly begrudge Argentinian steakhouse mega-players Gaucho their spot (64 Heath Street), especially as their Hampstead branch is now running 'Doggy Sundays' whereby hounds are welcome on specific dates.
With yummy mummies aplenty, there is no shortage of coffee shops in the area. Of course, Nero, Starbucks et al. are present, but for something more traditional head to The Coffee Cup (74 Hampstead High Street) which bills itself as one of the oldest in all of town. Ginger & White (41-51 Perrins Court) is a great little spot for properly decent coffee and a handful of tempting snacks. Nearby the patisserie chain Maison Blanc (76 Hampstead High Street) is always popular, as is the Gail's (64 Hampstead High Street).
If white tablecloths and candles are your thing, you could do worse than book a table at Mimmo La Bufala (45a South End Road) owned and run by one of the brothers behind worldwide chain Fratelli di Bufala. Get the Ossobucco.
Rival Italian Villa Bianca (1 Perrins Court) is also a good shout, but with most starters well over the £10 mark, you might need deep pockets. Or head to La Cage Imaginaire (16 Flask Walk) for traditional French fare that has remained unchanged for decades — in a good way — and sit out on the cobbled street if it's a nice evening.
Let’s be honest, Hampstead Village is just that, so don’t be surprised when bars and pubs close as you’ve just got into the swing of things (the latest is probably The Roebuck and The Stag, both open till midnight). For later fun, you’re best off getting a cab down to Camden or further into town.
For munchies after-hours, locals flock to gelateria Oddono's (8 Flask Walk) for their award-winning pistachio ices. There’s also Tinseltown (104 Heath Street) for American style burgers and shakes, but reviews are mediocre at best so you have been warned.